Cape Town – Jake White says he won’t throw his Bulls players and fellow coaches “under the bus” as he literally put his hand up for the current slump that continued with Friday night’s 41-33 Currie Cup loss to Western Province.
Director of rugby White said afterwards that he had taken charge of the team for the game instead of Bulls Currie Cup head coach Edgar Marutlulle – in order to prepare the players for next Saturday’s URC clash against Ulster in Belfast (9.35pm SA time kickoff) – and it was only right that he sat alongside the young mentor to answer questions from the media.
But despite fielding the likely match-23 that will take on Ulster, the Bulls still came up short against John Dobson’s Province side in what was their sixth consecutive defeat across the Currie Cup, URC and Champions Cup.
The Capetonians raced into a 15-5 in the first half, but the Bulls fought back to go in front at 33-25 following prop Francois Klopper’s try.
Province, though, produced another spectacular touchdown by Clayton Blommetjies – which included an unbelievable offload by Jean-Luc du Plessis to Suleiman Hartzenberg – and sharp-shooter flyhalf Kade Wolhuter added the conversion and three further penalties to close out the victory.
“I wouldn’t want to tell you that we play from everywhere. At times, we did play really well. The reason I’m here is that as the director of rugby, this week I basically took this group of players. I wanted to use it as an opportunity for next week, so that’s why it would be unfair for Edgar to take all the negativity of this result,” White said.
“It’s not a pleasant time for anybody… I reinforce that. That is why I thought it’s only right that I come – I can’t expect a coach who had nothing to do with this group of players this week, because I wanted to use this week to prepare for next week – because of the importance of what’s coming in the next couple of weeks in the URC.
“That’s why I’m here. It would be helluva unfair for me to push Edgar under the bus. Last week we weren’t good, and again, maybe the changes I made and the thought I had by bringing in some new Currie Cup coaches…
“Maybe the handover hasn’t been as good as it could have been. As an example, maybe in hindsight we should have broken up the squads earlier, and sent the Currie Cup squad on a tour to Namibia, as a place where they can develop as a group.
“That’s why it’s important that if I’m going to head up the rugby programme and head up the decisions that either make or break the team or combinations we have, then I’ve got to be man enough to tell you.
“I’m responsible for it – it’s not working. I thought the way we were going to do it was going to work. It’s not working… There’s nothing I can do – I can’t rewind and play the same side, or not give them off and keep them together.”
The Bulls had the more experienced players on the pitch, especially when they went up 33-25, and they would have been expected to see things through to the finish.
But it was the WP youngsters – including 18-year-old debutant centre Bruce Sherwood and 21-year-old flyhalf Wolhuter – who showed the greater composure in the end.
White, though, was reluctant to fault his players.
“The same guys came back last year and the year before, and won games. They beat Leinster away… What I’m saying is, they’ve shown me that they do have heart,” the former Springbok coach said.
“And it’s easy… Dobson can say what he likes, because they’re winning. It’s easy to say we’ve got heart and the other team don’t have heart.
“I don’t think I can blame the players. Obviously you can tell me tonight they made one or two mistakes, and some players made silly mistakes – and that’s the frustrating thing.
“Elrigh Louw as an example, on the halfway line he offloads, and they run 60 metres and score. Then he offloads right underneath the poles there (which was intercepted by Juan de Jongh). If that pass sticks, we score and win the game.
“If you say to me, ‘Are they scared to play?’, then why is he offloading one metre from the tryline if they are scared to play?
“I think this group have shown me – and I am not going to push them under the bus either – that whenever I’ve asked them in the past to front up (they have done so).
“We beat Western Province at Newlands with 14 men after a red card, and it’s the same group of players. What were Western Province saying then? They had 15 men against 14 and lost… It happens in sport.
“We’ll have to group together as a group, coaches in the Currie Cup and URC, and see what we need to do going forward – short-term and long-term as well, because there are some decisions that we are going to have to make in terms of where we want to be.
“We don’t want to be like this every season. We want to make sure that whatever we learn out of this makes us stronger.”
Blue Bulls 33 – Tries: Sbu Nkosi, Cornal Hendricks, Zak Burger, Johan Grobbelaar, Francois Klopper. Conversions: Chris Smith (4).
Western Province 41 – Tries: Paul de Wet, Kade Wolhuter, Ruhan Nel, Clayton Blommetjies. Conversions: Wolhuter (3). Penalties: Wolhuter (5).